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The Rolling Stones were coming to San Francisco. Technicians were busy adjusting wires and cables. Crews were still setting up the giant fifty-foot tall light tower. Stadium workers at the Oakland Coliseum were rolling a plastic carpet over the floor.
And high up in the rafters above the cheap seats, one man was setting up his nest, and adjusting the sights on his sniper's rifle. Nobody would ever know exactly which of the many factions present at that concert had hired him; in fact, history would record him as yet another lone nut.
The Rolling Stones were coming to San Francisco. So were Anne Benson and Harvey Hauptmann.
by Marc Singer
Phase was taking yet another shower in the Seekers' suite at the San Francisco Omni; he'd spent the last couple of days either taking showers or remaining immaterial, hoping to shed all the radioactive spray that had coated him. His phasing and invisibility powers would do him little good if Owen's men knew exactly where he was.
The rest of the Seekers team was gathered around a small table, memorizing blueprints for the Coliseum and finalizing their plans. "Let Flux and Sonic do most of the fighting," explained their leader, "with Trax backing you up. Trax's speed and Omega-sense will also make him a good scout and spotter, but that duty falls mostly to Trace." Attention shifted to the super-sensor. "You'll be up at the top, away from the action but able to see everyone and everything... make sure your radio is working. Now Phase," the leader nodded towards the bathroom, "will be your ace in the hole, standing as close to the meeting as he can get... also eavesdropping on Owen's men. And he's a surprise card you'll play, like you did with Owen's goons back at O'Hare. Hyper," this addressed to the newest Seeker, "you'll be in more of a support role, healing your team's wounded, slowing down the enemy, and giving the other Seekers a little boost." Jay Ortiz coughed, and the leader quickly added, "Uh, except for Trax... better not affect him. Sonic is in charge on the field, but you all answer to me, okay?"
"Just one question," said Jack Russell. "What do I do?"
"Your Omega is still a little untested you'd better stay in the back with Trace. But I promise you, once this all blows over, the Benson and Hauptmann collar is yours. Anything else?"
The Seekers were all silent. Of course, they were all surprised to see their leader take such a personal role in a mission, but given the stakes, it was understandable.
"Good," said Brenda Washington. "Now let's run through the timetable again..."
Hyper and Jack Russell both paid very close attention.
Jean-Luc Steele's group could not afford a room at the Omni, or any other hotel not because of the monetary cost, but because of the attention they would invariably attract. The main reason for that was Jove, the nine-foot tall Omega whom Steele just couldn't take anywhere... except a fight, and a fight was exactly what Steele was expecting. Steele had procured a dingy basement room in Berkeley, and was using it as his "command center."
Steele, like Brenda Washington, was briefing his team, although he only had two listeners. The cyborg code-named "Warstryke" was still recovering from his ordeal in the Syrian dungeon from which Steele had rescued him; even Steele had to concede that Warstryke was far too unstable to bring on a mission that put tens of thousands of innocent bystanders at risk. And the Brazilian psychic called "Rebecca" was busy focusing her telepathy, observing the Seekers briefing through Hyper's eyes. So Steele was only briefing Vesper and Jove, and Jove usually needed to be told everything twice.
Then the last member of Steele's cell, the young Native American named "Rift," entered the basement through one of his spatial portals. He was wearing a Rolling Stones T-shirt and carrying a videocamera. Steele brightened up a little at his entrance, and asked, "What did you get on your recon, Rift?"
Rift smiled. "I got a great T-shirt, Steele!"
"The name is Image, thank you, we're on a mission. And you know what I meant."
"Layout of the whole Coliseum. And I think I found a good place behind the upper decks where even Jove can hide."
"Good, now all we need is a way to observe Owen's meeting, so we know exactly when to disrupt it." Steele had no intention of letting Cornelius Owen get rid of his prisoner; he wanted to expose the Old Man's crimes, and SIRECOM's, to the eyes of the world. What did the fate of one man matter when weighed against that?
Rebecca opened her eyes and said, in Portuguese which only Steele could understand, "I think I found a way, Steele. In fact, one of the Seekers will provide it for us."
"I told you, my name is... ah, what's the use? Start talking."
Not so far away, Cornelius Owen and his agents were setting up shop in a finely-preserved Beacon Hill house, purchased long ago by a secret SIRECOM slush fund. Nobody was taking showers or cracking jokes during Owen's briefing; his private agents were required to exhibit complete devotion, or else face complete punishment.
Owen had to raise is voice slightly to be heard over the hum of the SIRECOM/Dynamax psi-screen. "...all know what to do once Benson, Hauptmann and Carter are at the meeting. Carter has to die, but he should be easy just don't underestimate his skill. Hauptmann, I want alive and in my private custody. As for Benson she may prove to be the ideal subject for my U.N. friends' Stormkiller project, so try to at least preserve her brain. But ultimately, her fate will be up to you, Richard."
Richard was trying out the slide-out holster for his new gun, but he remembered to nod at Cornelius Owen and smile. Owen had to remember to give Claude a large bonus this Christmas; Benson's ex- boyfriend was some of the finest conditioning Owen had ever seen.
Anne and Harvey were poking around the Coliseum a couple hours early, in hopes of talking to the band. They had to bring Dan along, too, but they he was keeping his mouth shut for once, just waiting for the exchange and freedom.
Anne's telepathy finessed their way through several layers of security guards and stadium employees, but it only worked up to a point. They were stopped just a few corridors short of the dressing rooms, by a host of management types and a few burly roadies. "Sorry, luv," said one of them, "normally we might make an exception for you after the show, but we got strict orders today. And the two gennlemen with you are right out."
There were too many for Anne's telepathic persuasion, and while the roadies presented no match for either Anne or Harvey, this was the last place they wanted to start trouble. Anne briefly tried a telepathic search for Jagger, but she had no idea where to look or what to look for.
"Sorry, luv," repeated the roadie. "Move along, okay?"
Dejected, Anne turned around and headed back towards the stands. Harvey and Dan lagged behind her, each trying not to say "I told you so"; it didn't matter, Anne picked up their thoughts anyway. All her hopes about Jagger being an Omega sympathizer, or even an Omega, had come to nothing; even if the rock star were one of them, he wouldn't know they needed his help... and he might not have offered it anyway.
On the way back, they used some of Owen's money to buy fast food and a program. Anne flipped through the program, not really looking at the publicity photos and corporate logos, when she saw something that really depressed her.
Elsewhere, Jarvin Tazakles was receiving the royal treatment, getting escorted to the V.I.P. box by a host of tour personnel. Of all his employees and underlings, Tazakles only brought Tyrus Absalom to San Francisco with him. He didn't need a brace of gunmen or a squad of Omegas. He had something much better...
"He sponsored the god-damn show!" cried Anne, as she waved the program in Harvey's face. The Dynamax Corporation logo was very prominent, right in between Budweiser and HBO.
"So what's the problem, Annie?" Harvey was perplexed. "Tazakles created the HAVOC squad, he likes Omegas."
"You didn't talk with Danny Anderson much, did you?" Anne crumpled up the program and threw it away. "Tazakles is a butcher of Omegas. And he's thick as thieves with Owen and SIRECOM... defense contracts, the works. Right, Carter?"
Carter's eyes simply glazed over at the mention of Tazakles. "Uh... I don't know what you're talking about."
"You should, I got it from your mind." Anne leaned against a wall for support. "Oh, grandpa, I'm beginning to think you're right. We are screwed."
All over the Coliseum, agents were getting into position, crawling around the levels like little army ants. Seekers, SIRECOM, Steele's cell, Dynamax, all parties were ready and eager for the main event.
Up in the rafters above the cheap seats, the man who would later be identified as Charles Vincent Snelling, an unemployed construction worker from Denton, Texas, was making the final adjustments to his equipment. He had his instructions. Wait until the meeting started, later in the show. He'd seen the set list, he knew exactly when he would do it, too. Right at the end of "Gimme Shelter." A sense of drama, of narrative was so important in these things. It lent a tiny hint of meaning to an otherwise senseless and incomprehensible event.
A voice below him said, "Ladies and gentlemen, the Rolling Stones!" The crowd cheered, and the gunman smiled. That applause would be for him tonight.
Charles Vincent Snelling was going to make the evening news.
IT'S ONLY ROCK N' ROLL
The music was loud and the performance was flashy, which made it all the harder for Harvey to ignore the Rolling Stones as they strutted around. Even though they looked like little stick people from the nosebleed seats Harvey had purchased two sets of tickets as a precaution, and they wouldn't move down to the seats next to Owen until the prearranged time. That gave Anne the chance to scan the crowd which means she gets to screen out the music, Harvey glumly thought.
On the other hand, Harvey didn't hate the Rolling Stones as much as he thought he did. They were at least a constant presence (if a nuisance) in his culture for decades, and that lent a certain sense of continuity. And they kept performing, too, ignoring slams on their age that made the ones Harvey had endured seem like words of praise. Perhaps Harvey could even come to like them... except Carter already liked them, which was a major point against them.
Anne came out of her trance. "I couldn't find Owen or Rich anywhere there's some kind of field over the stadium that hampers my telepathy. And the field is strongest down on the floor, right where our boys should be."
Harvey frowned. "You didn't detect any Seekers or anything?"
"Sorry, grandpa." Anne suddenly took notice of the band's performance. "I could try one last thing, though..." Anne relaxed, tried to ignore the buzzing field around her, and reached out with her mind...
Why the fuck am I here? What am I doing here, on this month of all times? (Cross over to Keith) The press is skewering us and we deserve it, us coming here, like we want to remind them all of that black boy who got stabbed. (Stick out those lips) I don't want to open those old wounds again, what the hell was I thinking when I came up with this? That crazy night in Chicago with whatsisname the money-man... (Strut for the crowd) At least I didn't wear a shirt with a bloody letter Omega on it, that shit just isn't cute anymore. I'm a goddamn grandfather, what if something goes wrong?, there's something sick in the air here. (You can't afford to fuck up) I've heard the whispering, they're starting to say that we should've gone out like Hendrix... or gone down like Lennon. Face it, boy, the sixties are over. (Strut for the crowd.) I hope. What's that buzzing feeling? Don't forget the lyrics...
Anne opened her eyes. "He can't help us."
Harvey shrugged. "Who can?"
A couple of kids tried to slide into the three empty seats next to Nicola Dare. "These are reserved," the SIRECOM agent snarled.
"Hey," one of the kids whined, "it's a half-hour into the show..."
Nicola grabbed his arm and whirled him around. "Beat it or I shatter every limb in your body." She shoved the kid, and he and his friends ran for dear life.
"Now, Nicola," Cornelius Owen said, grateful for the intrusion because it gave him an excuse to lay his hand on her thigh, "save it for Hauptmann."
WHEN IN FLIES THIS GUY WHO'S ALL DRESSED UP,
JUST LIKE THE UNION JACK
Trace was walking around the upper decks, surveying the stadium. Some kind of field was interfering with his more esoteric senses, probably Owen's doing, but he could still use the five basic ones just fine (although he had to work hard to filter out the noise of the concert). So far he'd spotted and tagged two of Owen's gunmen, letting the rest of the Seekers quietly take them out. Owen himself was quite visible in the floor section, sitting with Nicola Dare and the Cage boy. The scent of gunpowder from overhead caught Trace's notice, and he started scanning the rafters, when he almost stumbled into a young man in a Stones T-shirt. Trace mumbled an apology, then noticed who the man was.
"Darian? Rift? What are you"
"Oh, shit," they both exclaimed, and Rift stepped through one of his portals before Trace could grab him. Trace wasted no time in lifting his not-so-silly-anymore cuff mike, and practically shouting, "Code red, people! Steele's group is here!"
Anne and Harvey didn't have much choice; they had to go down to the main floor with little advance knowledge. They also practically had to drag Carter; he was strangely apprehensive for someone who was about to get freed. Unless, Anne thought, he knows Owen will pull something.
There were three empty seats, reserved for Anne, Harvey, and Dan. Owen was sitting next to them, trying to ignore the music. Some woman was there, alert and ready for trouble. And in between them was Rich.
It was the first time she'd seen him in months. He looked surprisingly well, a lot better than the starved, sleepless Dan who'd been captive for much less time a lot better than Anne, for that matter. It took every inch of Anne's self-control to keep from running to him and decking his captors.
And his look at her, filled with complete disinterest, crushed her.
Harvey, on the other hand, was more occupied with Owen. The man had aged a lot since 1942, it seemed even more than Harvey had. But the two men's mutual hatred had only increased since then. This was the man who'd ruined Harvey's life twice. For no reason. Harvey strode up to him, unconsciously raising his fists.
"Hauptmann," Owen growled. "It's really you."
"Owen," Harvey said, "you bastard" Then Harvey realized he was about to punch Owen, and stopped. This wasn't the time or the place. "I've been dreaming about this meeting for a long time."
"Really, Hauptmann? And what will you say or do, now that this moment has finally arrived?"
Harvey's mouth opened, but no words emerged.
"That's what I thought," said Owen. "So sorry I had to disillusion you. Maybe you can pursue some other pipe-dream for your next fifty years."
CHEATING LIKE I DON'T KNOW HOW
Meanwhile, Anne walked over to Rich, and thought about hugging him, but he didn't seem like he'd reciprocate. In fact, he craned his head around Anne to watch the show. "Rich?" Anne asked. "Are you okay? What's happened to you?"
Rich was forced to acknowledge her presence. "You used me and then left me. Left me to get imprisoned for things you did." He practically spat at her, so vehement was his speech.
"I know it was wrong, Rich, and I'm sorry."
"Sorry's not enough, Anne! Only one thing can make it right!" Rich started to lash his arm out, but Owen grabbed it.
"That's enough of this little reunion," Owen said. "Let's get down to business."
Anne wished she could read his mind, but the interference was so strong down here that she couldn't even use telepathy with Harvey. "Okay, first Carter for Rich." Dan started to walk over towards Owen.
Owen held up a finger. "Not so fast." Dan halted, and looked very worried. "First," Owen continued, "we have to settle the matter of your knowledge of SIRECOM activities."
"I thought I was quite clear on that," said Anne. She was briefly distracted by a clicking sound emanating from Nicola Dare's shoulder bag, but she resumed her statement. "We agreed that I don't act on that knowledge, or share it, if you don't persecute us. And all charges are dropped."
"It isn't that simple, my dear. I can't just" Owen was also distracted as Nicola pulled out a small Walkman, which proceeded to make a few scattered clicking noises. "What the hell is that?"
"Phase!" Sonic blurted over his microphone. "Get the hell out of there!"
Nicola Dare zeroed in on the tinny sound of Sonic's voice, and sprayed at it with a modified aerosol can. A mist of glittering lights streamed out of it, and collected around the shape of a man. Nicola whipped out a pistol, sending nearby concertgoers running for cover; Anne and Harvey both raised their fists, ready for battle.
The phantom Omega realized he was discovered, and dropped his invisibility. Nicola prepared to shoot Phase but while the Omega was carrying Seekers standard-issue headphones and mike, he wasn't the agent Dare was expecting.
"Steele!" Owen cried. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Just capturing a special moment on film, Cornelius." Jean-Luc Steele, also known as "Image," wagged a small videocamera. "And lots of footage of you with a kidnapped civilian."
"Stop them!" screamed Owen. "Stop all the freaks!" While he appeared to be furious, Owen was actually delighted at the intrusion; it provided an excuse to kill Carter, and perhaps eliminate Steele's terrorists as an added bonus.
A nearby man, who to all appearances seemed to be a simple concertgoer, drew a gun and shot Steele, but the French Omega had already dropped Phase's powers and duplicated Anne's a telekinetic field smashed the bullet in mid-air. Then Steele telekinetically flattened the assassin and started running.
Nicola Dare spun around and fired towards Harvey, knowing full well that he would instinctively dodge out of the way and actually aiming the bullet directly at Dan Carter.
When the chaos started, Anne grabbed Rich, threw up a TK force field around him, and started running. She saw the bullet coursing towards Carter, but it was too late to stop it. Anne knew that they'd all been had.
HOT GUNS AND COLD, COLD KNIVES
Dan's vision was coming true. Except he was going to be the one dead on a pile of chairs. He saw the flash of Nicola's gun, saw Harvey step just a little too far to one side, and even thought he saw the bullet heading towards his forehead...
When a phantasmal shield sprung up in front of his face, deflecting the bullet. Dan, shocked but still alive, sunk to the ground. Harvey was busy chasing after Nicola and Owen, who were chasing the guy with the videocamera, and this was Dan's chance to free himself.
A severe-looking man in a three-piece suit came running up to Dan. An ectoplasmic knife appeared in his hand, and for a minute Dan was afraid he was done for, but the man used the knife to break Dan's handcuffs. "Compliments of Mister Tazakles," the man said.
"Thanks," said Dan. His hands were numb from a month of being cuffed, and the blood rushing back through his wrists stung him. "You're Absalom, right? The guy who uses weapons created by his mind?"
"Not just created by my mind." Tyrus Absalom handed Dan a small parcel. Inside was a heavy gun, with advanced Dynamax attachments. "This is also compliments of Mister Tazakles." Tyrus vanished into the panicking crowd.
Dan hefted the gun in his hands. He knew what to do.
Steele was using all of Anne Benson's speed, but the crowd made it hard to move. Nicola Dare and Cornelius Owen were keeping up with him, not that they could do much if they caught him. Nevertheless, Steele wanted out. He picked up his own microphone and said, "Rift, get me out of here." Instantly, a portal appeared and Steele dove through it.
He came out on a hallway on the upper decks, where Rift, Rebecca, Vesper, and Jove were waiting for him. (What went wrong, boss?) asked Rebecca, clearly enjoying the chaos.
Steele wrenched the Seekers communication rig off his head. "How the hell was I supposed to know this damn thing was radioactive?"
"I knew," said another voice, and the Omega terrorists whirled around to face it. Phase was standing there, nursing the large bruise Jove had given him. Behind him were Sonic, Trax, Flux, and Hyper.
"Care to hand over that videotape peacefully, Steele?" Sonic asked.
Steele spat. "Go to hell, Walker."
"You'll be waiting there for me." Both teams lunged for the attack.
I WAS WASHED UP AND LEFT FOR DEAD
Trace wasn't with his fellow Seekers; he'd located the unconscious Phase as soon as they all discovered Phase had been replaced by Steele, but Trace knew he'd be no use in a fight. Instead, he and Jack Russell fought their way down to the main floor to try and take control of the situation.
Russell wasn't looking well, but that was the least of their concerns right now. "Jack," said the Seeker, yelling to be heard over the restless crowd, "I spotted Owen! Let's go!" They both held up their badges, as if that would part the crowd like Moses at the Red Sea.
Harvey stormed through the crowd, flattening any of Owen's goons who tried to interpose themselves between him and his enemy.
Fifty years. This time, Harvey wouldn't hesitate or wonder what to do when he found Owen. And nothing would stop him.
"I think we lost him, sir," reported Nicola Dare. "I don't see Steele anywhere."
"God DAMN!" Owen screamed, startling all the people crowding around him. "If that teleporter of his is here, we may never catch him! Still, his tape isn't that compromising, especially if Richard comes through for us... our top priority now is finding Hauptmann."
Nicola paled and stared behind Owen. "Uh, sir...?"
A shadow loomed over Owen from behind, and an old but powerful hand clamped down on Owen's shoulder. "What the lady is trying to say," said Harvey, "is that I already found you."
Amazingly, nobody seemed to be following Anne and Rich. Most of the audience hadn't figured out that a fight was brewing on the floor, so if they moved quickly, Anne just might get Rich out before any more trouble started.
"What makes you think I want to run off with you, Anne, especially after you ran out on me? Should I be glad to see you just because you came charging to my rescue? You certainly took your own sweet time!" Rich had been chewing her out ever since they left Owen, and it was now beyond the point of making Anne feel guilty. It made her downright pissed.
"Look, Richard," she snapped, using his full name as she always did when he irritated her, "I didn't know Owen had you until recently, okay? And I only left you in the first place because I thought it would keep you out of all this!"
"Well you were wrong, Anne. You were wrong about a lot of things."
Yeah, including you, Anne thought but she managed to not say it. Instead, Anne just walked over to the balcony to survey the scene on the floor below. It hurt, but she turned her back on Rich.
Who thrust out his arm, slid the unsheathed gun into his waiting hand, and fired.
WHILE THE BLITZKRIEG RAGED AND THE BODIES STANK
Harvey wasn't sure if Nicola's gun could hurt him, but even if it couldn't, he didn't want ricochets killing innocent bystanders. He reached out as soon as she aimed it, and before her finger could tighten on the trigger, he'd twisted the barrel into a little bow. Nicola gasped.
Owen, however, was unimpressed. "You enjoy those little stunts, don't you, Hauptmann." He sighed. "Sometimes, I think that if an intelligent man had your power, he'd run this country."
"I'll ignore that," Harvey said as he grabbed Owen and lifted him until the two were eye-to-eye. "I have much better reasons to hate you."
Owen, to his credit, was still nonplussed. "What do you want, Hauptmann?"
"I want to know why you ruined my life, Owen."
"Because you were the only person who ever got away from me, Hauptmann." Owen laughed with scorn. "Of course, after successfully hiding for fifty years, you just turned around and walked right back into my hands. As I said, if an intelligent man..."
Harvey could barely keep from shaking the old bastard to pieces. "You know what I mean, Owen! Why the hell did you ever hound me in the first place? Make me live a lie for fifty years?" Harvey was on the verge of breaking up. "What did I ever DO to you?"
Owen could see that behind Harvey, Dan Carter and how strange Tyrus Absalom were running towards him, so he decided to humor Harvey and stall for time. "Seventy-nine years old, and still such a naif. You were more powerful than me, Hauptmann. That's all there was to it... and it was reason enough to keep you locked away."
"You paranoid fool!" Harvey swatted away Nicola, who was trying to inject Harvey with something and only breaking her syringe. "I was no threat to you!"
Owen nearly choked as Harvey tightened his grip. What was taking that bastard Carter so long? "You claim you aren't a threat to me, Hauptmann? Then why are you threatening me right now?"
"Maybe you created my threat, Owen." Harvey smiled. "Yeah, I like that. You outsmarted yourself, and you lost this battle fifty years ago."
"The battle isn't over yet, you old bastard." Dan fired his hefty Dynamax gun, right into Harvey's back. It's projectiles struck Harvey with all the force of a bursting shell... and he fell.
The explosions were highly concentrated, but loud, and the entire stadium screamed. Some of the crowd upstairs might have thought it was part of the show, but everyone on the floor was running for dear life.
Owen crawled out from under Harvey, laughing hysterically. "Good work, Daniel! You always were... my..." The smoke cleared, and Owen could see Dan pointing the gun at him. "...favorite?" Owen smiled weakly.
"You sold me out, Owen."
"Now, now, Daniel, let's not be hasty"
Dan laughed, and several shots rang out.
JUST AS EVERY COP IS A CRIMINAL
Nicola Dare's gunshots drove Dan Carter and Tyrus Absalom away from her boss. "Watch out, sir!" she cried. "Carter must have turned over to Tazakles's side!"
"Tazakles?" Owen yelled from his relatively safe position behind Harvey's prone body. "Has he gone insane?"
"With all due respect, sir," yelled Carter from across an aisle, "he's not the one getting his ass shot up down here, is he?"
Such rank insubordination really got Owen's bile up even moreso than attempted murder. "Dare! Kill them!"
But that had become problematic. Carter and Absalom had each grabbed concertgoers who were a little too slow to flee, and were using them as shields. Dare quickly pulled up one who was stuck under a chair, equalizing the situation. It wasn't like any of them had qualms about shooting a hostage, the hostages just made shooting the other side a lot more difficult.
"Looks like a Mexican standoff, Carter," said Nicola.
"Not quite," stated Tyrus Absalom, as his free arm formed a javelin.
But Absalom never got the chance to throw it, because at that moment, Nicola Dare saw the last man she'd killed come surging through the crowd. With a hideous gleam in his eyes that was quite alien to the wholly living, Jack Russell tackled her, his fingers clawing at her throat.
First, some kind of suction cup or magnet or claw attached itself to the back of Anne's head. That sent static scraping through her brain, like the field that inhibited her telepathy, only a thousand times worse.
Then an explosive shell hit Anne right in the back. It hurt worse than anything Anne had ever felt before, but Anne somehow lived through it, even stayed conscious. Unfortunately, the force of the explosion sent Anne toppling over the railing, down to the floor below. Anne tried to stop herself telekinetically, but her TK didn't seem to be working anymore. Her head was throbbing and her back hurt like hell, and little explosions were still going off all around her. All Anne could do was scream to warn the people under her to scatter.
The floor rushed up to meet Anne.
Gunshots. Jesus Christ. It's all happening again.
Stop playing! Stop, this time... goddammit, Keith, pay attention!
"Hey, everybody cool it, okay? Don't panic, don't trample each other... nothing to worry about, just try to get along... can we get some concert security down there? Can we...?" Fuck it, nobody's listening. Why haven't those Dynamax cops shown up?
Impotent. We're old and impotent. Even the people who paid sixty bucks to see us don't listen to us. Like they ever really did anyway. They just bought our fucking albums and made us their impotent oracles. Too busy listening to the tune to actually hear the message.
Hey, there's an idea. Change in plans, boys. Play one loud and long, get them singing along, sitting down.
Which one? I don't know... whatever's next on the set list...
Nicola Dare dropped her hostage and pumped several shots into Jack Russell, but that didn't bother Jack as much as it had the last time. He plowed into Nicola, ripping her gun away and tearing at her throat, foam forming at his lips.
Trace, astonished by this display of ferocity, thought about restraining Jack, but then he saw a very scary-looking Dan Carter and the mystery-man from O'Hare discarding their hostages and advancing on Cornelius Owen. Much as every Seeker hated the old bastard, Trace couldn't condone murder, so he jumped in between Owen and the would- be killers. Trace had his own gun out, but it only fired tranquilizer darts, and he didn't know if that would faze either man.
Both men raised their weapons, but Trace's super-senses gave him a slightly better reaction time, so he practically knew they were attacking before they did. Trace shot a couple of darts into Dan, but they only seemed to put him in a daze.
Then an ectoplasmic spear buried itself in Trace's arm, causing him to drop his gun and putting him in excruciating pain. The spear disappeared, and a large two-handed executioner's ax formed in Tyrus Absalom's hands. He raised it over his head and stood over Trace, ready to remove the last obstacle between him and Owen.
A crack split the air, and a small red hole opened in Absalom's forehead. Blood trickled between his eyes as the Omega fell backwards; his ax shriveled, and twisted, and finally faded out entirely.
Trace whirled around, clutching his arm. Owen was brandishing a smoking gun. "That's one two-timing Omega freak," said the Old Man. He locked eyes with Trace. "You're next."
Miraculously, Anne pulled herself out of the small dent she'd made in the floor. Even though that gizmo canceled her psionics, Anne had been protected by her own natural invulnerability, the legacy she'd inherited from Harvey. Two generations of genetic imprinting must have protected it from SIRECOM's wizardry.
Better still, the static was gone apparently the gizmo had been broken in the fall. Anne tried something she'd never done before, using her TK to lift herself. It worked, and although she wasn't graceful, she flew up to encounter Rich. Even amidst all the chaos, Anne could hear the crowd gasp at the sight of her Omega powers.
Rich was going seriously crazy, firing shots at random. When he saw her, Rich scowled with total hatred almost breaking Anne's heart again and he shot at her. This time, Anne caught and crushed each bullet before it reached her. Then Anne shattered the gun with a swat of her hand, even though she was still ten feet away. Rich tried to run away, but Anne immobilized him in her telekinetic grip. Still levitating off the floor, her hair whipping around her like a medusa's, Anne floated over to Rich.
Rich's gaze changed from contempt to utter fear. Anne sent a mental command ordering him to sleep, and then ran a fleeting mind probe to learn the cause of his transformation.
SIRECOM's conditioning techniques might have been the finest in the annals of behavioral science, but from Anne's viewing of Richard's mind, they were as crude and violent as a rape. Whole landscapes of his psyche had been twisted, reshaped, imprisoned, or simply erased. It was like Rich had been squeezed into a tiny box, and all the parts that couldn't fit were brutally amputated.
Anne caressed Rich, and relaxed her grip. As she laid him in a vacated seat, she said, "A minute ago, I would have loved to hate you, Rich. But this wasn't your fault." She knew whose fault it was, though.
Anne turned away from Rich again, looking out over the rioting crowd. Owen was out there somewhere, and so was Harvey. It was time to put things right.
Trace barely hit the floor in time; Owen's shot whistled right over his head. "Jack!" the Seeker screamed. "Jack, I need some help here!"
But Jack Russell was still attacking Nicola Dare. She was a far better combatant, but no matter how much damage she did, he kept on clawing at her. Jack's healing effect was starting to work at full effectiveness, and his first bullet wounds were already sealing themselves.
Jack hit the woman hard, and she collapsed. He stood over her, ready to tear into her... no, this was wrong. Even if she'd killed him, this was wrong
something touched Jack's mind
this was wrong, Nicola Dare was only part of the pile of bodies. Someone else was on top of all the chairs. The man who had started all of this. Jack walked over towards Owen.
Jack stepped right over Trace, who said, "Jack, thank God... Jack, what are you doing... Jack!"
But Jack wasn't listening. He advanced on Owen. Owen shot him several times, but that didn't even slow the dead cop. Soon, Owen's gun was empty.
Gun. A weapon. Jack needed a weapon. The white man, the other scapegoat had one. Jack grabbed Dan Carter's arms, but the agent wouldn't surrender his gun. So Jack led Dan over to Owen, and aimed the pistol.
From his vantage point in the V.I.P. box, Tazakles chuckled as white and black pawns advanced to topple the king. Tazakles prepared to move the appropriate pieces on his chessboard, which he'd insisted on bringing.
IT'S JUST A SHOT AWAY
Over at the west end of the Coliseum, the crowd was having a real problem. As soon as they left the chaos of the main floor and reached the upper levels, they spilled into another Omega battle. The crowd was doubling back on itself to avoid that fight; people were getting trampled, and soon somebody would die. Everybody in the crowd was panicking, and more people were pouring up from below every minute. Nobody was sure what to do.
Then they all saw the woman flying over their heads.
The corridor was an utter mess. Steele had duplicated Trax's super-speed, and the two Omegas were battling at a pace near the speed of sound. Sonic was fighting the huge Omega called Jove, and while the faster Sonic was landing several potent blows with his combat batons, none of them seemed to affect the giant. Worse, if Jove ever managed to hit Sonic, their fight would be over but Jove was just smashing holes in walls. Flux's energy form was evenly matched with Vesper's light- generation, but the more experienced Seeker was sorely hurting the rookie. And while the intangible Phase was safe from most forms of harm, Rebecca was delighting in taking his mind apart. Hyper couldn't safely get close enough to the terrorists to use her powers; Rift hadn't learned how to use his powers offensively yet, so he was just watching the fight and waiting for the command to retreat. Which Steele, far too enraptured in his battle, wasn't about to give.
Sonic dodged past Jove's huge fists and ran over to Hyper. "We need to tilt the balance fast," said the field leader. "Give me a boost so I can knock out this ape and turn the tide."
Across the corridor, Rebecca noticed Sonic's request. While most of her psyche tormented Phase with his greatest fear being consumed by an amnesia which dissipated him into nothingness part of Rebecca's mind triggered a post-hypnotic command in Hyper.
Hyper smiled and spread her hands apart. "Anything you say, Sonic." She thought a serotonin shot would be nice, high enough to constrict all his blood vessels... simultaneous cessation of all hemoglobin production, of course... and just to be safe, a sudden increase in stomach acid... Hyper reached out to touch Sonic...
One of the doors to the main stadium was kicked off its hinges, and Anne Benson came flying through. All the combatants stopped fighting and watched her.
"Omegas, listen up!" Anne shouted. "You can keep pounding each other silly while the stadium falls apart around you, or you can put your differences aside and help me end this once and for all!"
The Seekers started to pull away from the fight, but J.L. Steele was less conciliatory. "We aren't lawmen, Ms. Benson. My comrades and I don't have a responsibility to fix things here."
"And you wonder why all the other Omegas don't leap to your aid." Anne walked over to Steele. "We all have a mutual enemy down there, and I'd think you'd want to take part in his last reckoning."
Steele grinned. "When you put it that way..."
Absalom was dead, Dare was unconscious, Rich was missing, all the Omegas were absent, and all of Owen's men were gone. And Russell and Carter were coming to kill him.
Owen shook Harvey furiously. "Get up, Hauptmann! Get up, damn you, I need you!"
Russell's and Carter's first shot went wild. The two men were obviously under some external influence, probably that rat bastard Tazakles. "I'll give you anything you want, Hauptmann, just get up!" But Harvey didn't budge.
Owen gave up and decided to run while he still could. He turned and started to sprint, but something grabbed his ankle and set him hurtling to the floor. Owen slammed into a chair, knocking it over: the rest of the row toppled in turn, like dominoes, each one's fate inexorably determined at the moment of Owen's fall.
Bruised, Owen turned around to see what had tripped him.
Harvey Hauptmann's hand, capable of bending steel, was locked around Owen's ankle.
"Now who's the smart one?" said Harvey.
IT'S JUST A SHOT AWAY
Most of the Seekers and Steele's group, at Anne's request, were busy calming the crowd and preventing a stampede. Anne, Steele, and Sonic wanted to get right to the main action, so they took one of Rift's portals down to the floor.
They emerged about twenty yards from Owen's current position. Just in time to see a laughing Jack Russell open fire.
"God, Hauptmann, NO!" Owen shrieked. "Anything you want, just let me go!" Russell and Carter were growing more coordinated; Tazakles must have been getting more control over them.
"Freedom, Owen," Harvey said. "Total freedom, total amnesty, and you never hassle me again. Or anyone in my family."
"Of course, of course!" Carter was able to hand Russell the gun. Owen tried to kick free, but what good where his feeble muscles against Overman?
"And one more thing... " Harvey said, with a Hollywood smile.
"What, for God's sake, WHAT?" It couldn't end like this, could it?
Harvey answered, "I want an apology." Russell aimed the gun; he was laughing.
"Oh God, I'm sorry, I'm SORRY!"
Jack laughed maniacally and opened fire.
But Harvey was much faster than the numb, wounded cop. He rolled on top of Owen, deflecting the bullets.
Jack dropped the gun and said, "What the hell am I doing?"
"I might ask the same thing," said Trace, picking himself up. He started to tourniquet his bleeding arm. Anne Benson, J.L. Steele, and Sonic were also rapidly advancing on the scene.
Harvey's shirt was shredded, but other than a few superficial burns, he was fine. Owen looked him over, and said, "those bullets didn't hurt you at all that time."
"The first shot took me more by surprise than anything else. And the rest of the time..."
Owen was incredulous. "You were faking?"
"From the moment your woman's gunshots brought me back to attention. Really, Owen, you're such a naif." Harvey virtually glowed with triumph.
The crowd was either filtering slowly out of the coliseum, or crouching calmly in their seats. A crowd of Omegas had gathered on the floor, and all of them seemed to hate Owen. The band was bringing "Gimme Shelter" to a quiet conclusion, and it seemed like Anne and Harvey could keep control of the situation.
Until Trace jerked his head as if he'd heard a strange noise; then looked straight up; then screamed, "Sniper!"
The song was winding down, and the man who would be known to history as Charles Vincent Snelling, a lone nut from Denton, Texas, knew he had only one shot. He had to make it count, do the maximum damage.
But he also had to kill the person who would most insure his place in history. It was too bad, in a way, because he really loved the music. Sometimes, late at night, he thought it spoke personally to him.
JUST A SHOT AWAY
Anne saw the sniper, and guessed where he was aiming, a split- second before he actually pulled the trigger. It might not have been enough. She launched herself into the air.
"C'mon, Annie," Harvey whispered. "Faster than a speeding...!"
Anne was right between the gunman and Jagger when she intercepted the bullet. It ricocheted neatly off her TK field, although most of the onlookers probably just thought it bounced off her chest. Anne reached out and pulverized the bullet telekinetically, to keep it from hitting anyone else.
Then Anne flew towards the sniper's nest. He'd already dropped his rifle, and he was climbing down from the rafters when a tour security guard on the upper deck shot him. Anne was too startled and too late to shield the sniper; the first shot killed him.
Anne circled back and landed on the stage; the sniper wasn't going anywhere, and she wasn't about to pass up her chance to talk with Jagger, now that it had finally come.
Everyone on the stage probably everyone in the Coliseum, except those who knew of her already was staring at her in awe. She landed in front of the singer.
"I saved your life," Anne said. "Not that I'm really a big fan or anything, I could just use your help. What do you say?"
Harvey, Sonic, Trace, Jack Russell, J.L. Steele, and even a dazed Dan Carter were surrounding Owen. And it seemed they all wanted a piece of him.
Owen calmed himself and began his damage control. To Carter, Sonic, and Trace, he said, "You're all fired. And Carter, you're going to prison, if not the sanitarium."
"You seem to be under the illusion that you still run SIRECOM," said Brenda Washington, who was picking her way through the carnage. "Which is part of what started this whole mess in the first place."
Washington's appearance only soured Owen's mood. "Don't lecture me, young woman. Your irresponsible agents contributed greatly to this mess. I think the whole Seekers program needs to be reconsidered..."
"I don't think you're in any position to bargain, Owen." Sonic, who was almost as large as Harvey, loomed over the Old Man. "You kidnapped that kid, you shot that other guy, you had Jack Russell killed, and your goons tried to kill our agents twice. You're the one who's going up-river."
Owen smiled, and it was almost convincing. "That 'kid' was staying with me of his own free will, as I'm sure he, and his attack on Ms. Benson, will attest. In fact, I think I could prove that Ms. Benson kidnapped him, if I were so inclined. Absalom was a clear case of self- defense, as your own operative witnessed and his senses cannot lie. None of these killers can be linked to me; your only witness is rather unreliable," he leered at Steele, "and his evidence is hardly conclusive. And as for Mister Russell, I'd say he's looking rather well, wouldn't you?"
"Not because of you, Old Man," growled Russell.
"Ah, but that won't sit in court. It's hard to have a murder with no corpse." Owen brushed off his clothes as best he could, and tried to leave the vicious circle of foes. "Now, if you'll step aside, I believe none of you have any claim on me. Oh, and Ms. Washington expect a call from the White House."
Russell and Carter weren't about to let Owen go, and things were on the verge of turning ugly again, when another party arrived on the scene: Jarvin Tazakles, with a contingent of tour security guards, all wearing (among other things) the Dynamax logo. "Ever the Teflon man, aren't you, Cornelius? Too bad it won't work this time." Tazakles stepped over Absalom's dead body a shame, that one was good and said, "Tell him, Jack."
Jack Russell reached inside his jacket and pulled out a sheaf of papers. "Phone bills, Owen, and linetaps. It seems that you had the FCC work up a little scheme where all SIRECOM calls were untraceable."
"National security," Owen grumbled.
"...And then you and your people used it for personal calls, because it was also unbillable." Jack smiled. "I think you can kiss any government influence you had goodbye. Nobody will want to be associated with you now."
"Say goodbye to SIRECOM, Owen," Brenda Washington gloated.
"Nice work, Jack," added Tazakles. "Now hand over those papers."
"I don't think so." Jack shot accusatory looks at Washington and Tazakles. "Both of you used me, and as far as I'm concerned, both of you can go to hell. I'm sending this to the newspapers."
"That's not such a good idea, Jack," said Tazakles, and he started to pull on Jack's mental strings...
Which were no longer there. Anne Benson was now floating directly overhead, and she'd cut his ties. Tazakles had to abort before she discovered that they led back to him.
Anne landed between Harvey and Jack. "Everything's cool here?"
"Owen won't bother us again," Harvey said.
"And he won't be playing his shadow-games in this government, either," added Jack. "In fact, I think I'm going to make a citizen's arrest on the old bastard right now. Carter, too."
"I hope you weren't planning on including us in your bust, detective," explained Harvey. "In his last act as a government eminence, Owen is going to arrange for our total amnesty. Or else we spill some of SIRECOM's dirty secrets, right, Ms. Washington?"
Brenda paled slightly, and muttered something about amnesty being easy to arrange. Jack just shrugged his shoulders and said, "Fine by me. I think out of this whole mess, you two are the only folks who haven't screwed me over."
"I haven't either," interrupted Steele, "and I don't plan to stick around long enough to do so. This place is starting to sound like the end of Murder She Wrote... but I suppose Owen's downfall makes it all worthwhile. Think of me in prison, Old Man. And remember, I have you on video." Steele flipped Owen the distinctly Continental profanity of two upraised fingers, mouthed a final, arrogant, "Ta-ta!", then disappeared through one of Rift's portals. The resident Seekers were too tired, and too satisfied with Owen's troubles, to even care.
Tazakles was also satisfied. Owen was down, if not dead, and he had one last card to play. "I, of course, am deeply shocked by my associate's depravity, and I'll do my best to see that he's prosecuted." He said it more for the newly-arrived news cameras than for the much wiser Omegas around him. "But I must point out that you were all creating a disturbance at this event, and my security people are going to have to charge all of you for it. Even you, Mister Russell," he added with extra malice.
But for some reason, Anne Benson wasn't impressed. "I think you're overstepping your bounds, Tazakles." She sent a brief telepathic message, and Jagger announced over the concert speakers, "JARVIN TAZAKLES, YOU ARE FIRED, EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY. TAKE YOUR GOONS AND GET OUT."
Tazakles sputtered, "But but I have a contract "
"That's okay, Jarvin," Anne replied, "Mick mentioned something about a lawsuit, too. For lax security. Looks like Owen won't be the only one tied up in court."
BUT IF YOU TRY SOMETIME,
YOU JUST MIGHT FIND...
After a long delay to get the police and medical crews in and out, the Stones were playing a few more songs for those souls brave enough to stick around. Anne and Harvey weren't among them; they were watching as ambulances carried off the wounded, including Richard Cage, Phase, Trace, and the severely-injured Nicola Dare. Another ambulance carried Tyrus Absalom and the still-unidentified sniper to the morgue. Police cars were carting off Dan Carter and Cornelius Owen. They would probably beat the rap, but at least they couldn't use SIRECOM to hound Anne and Harvey anymore.
The police were also listening to a set of tapes Dynamax security had found on the sniper, in which the would-be assassin tried to paint his attempted murder as a heroic act. It was doubtful that anyone would ever learn who the sniper had been working for, and even the audio tapes said he was acting alone if, indeed, the sniper had actually made them.
Anne and Harvey were just sitting in the back of a tour pickup truck, enjoying the cold, clear night their first truly free one in a long time. "So, Annie," said the older man, "did you ever find out if Jagger was an Omega? Or even an Omega sympathizer?"
Anne stopped drinking her coffee, and paused reflectively. "I don't know," she said. "I don't know if even he is really anybody all that special... but when the time came, he did the right thing." Only a few yards away, and held back by a metal fence, several newscasters were complimenting the band on its handling of the crisis. Of course, most of the cameras were trying to get a shot of the "heroic new Omega who stopped a riot."
Sonic and Jack Russell came walking across the parking lot. Harvey craned his arms, rubbed his aching back, and told Sonic, "I hope you don't still want that rematch."
"No thanks," said the Seeker. "I have no desire to get slammed a third time. I just came over to apologize for being... a little irrational."
Harvey laughed. "Hell, we all make mistakes. At least you fixed yours early." He shifted his attention to Jack. "How about you, Mister Russell? Sorry you can't haul us in?"
Jack shrugged. "No, out of this whole thing, I think you guys were the only people who didn't screw me over. May I?" Jack took a long sip of Anne's coffee. "I don't know who I was kidding... I'm not a cop anymore. Hell, most of the world still thinks I'm dead." Jack sat down on the tail gate. "I guess my main priority now is to rebuild my life."
"You ain't the only one," said Anne. "I have to help Rich pull himself back together, if that's even possible. And what do I tell my family?"
"Anything but a lie, honey," said Harvey. "Anything but a lie."
Sonic's earphone crackled, and he said, "I have to go... Brenda's busy planning her first round of purges and conquests. You folks stay out of trouble, okay?"
Anne smiled. "Nothing could please me more."
Harvey, still rubbing his back, added, "It would help if your agency didn't make trouble... and don't think we won't be watching you."
Sonic's chuckle seemed a little forced. "I'll bear that in mind," he answered, jogging away.
Jack stayed behind. "Do you know where you're going next?"
Anne and Harvey didn't even have to look at each other for confirmation. They said, in unison, "Home."
LET'S END THIS TALE...
Sonic, Trax, Flux, Trace, Phase, and the Seekers appear courtesy of Matt Dempster. Steele, Rift, Rebecca, Vesper, Jove, and the Cadre appear courtesy of Kay Green. (NOTE: This story takes place after Cadre #1-5.) Jarvin Tazakles, Tyrus Absalom, and the Dynamax Corporation appear courtesy of Matt Rossi. A certain world's greatest rock and roll band appears courtesy of no one, in celebration of thirty-plus years of the best music you can set a superhero story to. Quotes are from It's Only Rock N' Roll (But I Like It), Get Off of My Cloud, Tumbling Dice, Highwire, Jumpin' Jack Flash, Sympathy for the Devil, Gimme Shelter and You Can't Always Get What You Want.
Special thanks to Matt, Kay, and Matt for letting me use their characters so freely. Thanks must also go to everyone who participates in the Omega universe, or who gave me much-welcomed critical feedback. The LEGACY saga will continue, as Anne and Harvey rebuild their lives and interesting new characters are introduced. Expect lots of reunions around Christmas time!
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